Album art for “Archeophony” by Raed Yassin. Photo courtesy of akuphone.bandcamp.com.
I’d like to start this review with an observation that may seem rather obvious; there is A LOT of music in the world. There’s so much music out there that no one could ever hope to listen to absolutely everything. In our entire lives, we likely won’t even see a fraction of the stars in the universe of music that’s been recorded since the technology was invented, never mind from the past year. Naturally, as a result of this, we inevitably run the risk of missing out on something we might well enjoy. Raed Yassin’s newest release from this past November on the independent French record label Akuphone is one such example. Leaving it off of my Best of 2020 list was simply just due to my not knowing that it even existed, much less that it’s concept was one that I’d enjoy as much as I do.
Lebanese electronic artist Raed Yassin embarked on a sonic archeology expedition for this new project. The bulk of what you hear is sampled from Yassin’s extensive record collection and interspersed with keyboards, various electronic sounds, and drum machines to form textures that sound both ancient and current at once; truly timeless. The driving rhythms on the fourth track “A Fistful of Stardust” meld well with the string instruments and the spacious electronic sound effects to create a soundscape that’s equal parts Berlin (where the album was recorded) and Cairo. The sampled vocal line throughout the opener “Imama Of Dawn” functions almost as an Adhan–the Muslim call to prayer–meant to call out to the listener and draw them in for what’s to come. Yassin seems to have taken great care to weave his everyday experiences throughout this project.
The album, which serves as a final document of Yassin’s solo “expedition,” serves as a sort of People’s History of music from the Arab world, directly subverting the countless attempts to package and sterilize the different musical traditions of different cultures from that part of the world as just simply “Arab music” or “World music.” To be sure, this album contains sounds that wouldn’t be out of place on a compilation of music from the Middle East that you could likely buy at your local Wegmans. The difference is that this album was compiled by someone who is actually steeped in the musical traditions represented on the album. Yassin lives, breathes, and makes music just like this. Effectively, Yassin dispenses with the white bourgeois corporations and governments that would colonize this music, like they did to the places it comes from, and presents it in a way that is both unique to his sensibilities as an artist AND true to the conditions in which it was made in the first place.
If I had known about this album in 2020, I would’ve hailed it as one of the best of the year. Having discovered it in 2021, I still say it’s one of the best of the year just gone, and well worth your time in this or any other year.